by Cliff Rold
What fans take into a fight can color how they perceive the realities that unfold.
Saturday’s heavyweight clash between titlist Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin was happening under an obvious cloud. The majority of boxing fans wanted to see Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder.
A fight that otherwise could have been more anticipated felt like a consolation prize with a more predictable outcome. Joshua was expected to beat Povetkin and did. However, fans got an interesting, dramatic fight along the way to the seventh round knockout win. For some, that won’t be enough and may provide ammunition for skeptics.
The burdens of boxing’s rainmakers are different than those of other fighter’s.
Whether it’s Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, or today with Joshua and Saul Alvarez, the elite fighter who is also worth sizably more money than anyone else around him is often perceived as able to make most of the most desirable fights on their time. They have a perceived selection power others do not and a perceived favoritism as well. The scores in favor of Joshua after six rounds Saturday will be all the evidence some need for that. In Joshua’s case, Deontay Wilder taking on Luis Ortiz earlier this year, and Tyson Fury in December, adds fuel to skepticism about the delay in the desired showdown.
Wilder is seen as taking more risks right now after years of accusations that his people wouldn’t risk him much at all.
It may not allow for Joshua to get full credit for what he pulled off on Saturday.
Joshua stopped a fighter who had never been stopped before and got a damn hungry version of the Russian veteran. Povetkin showed up in great shape, fought his heart out, and gave Joshua fits. It shouldn’t matter, but probably does, that Povetkin should never have been seen as hopeless. That he wasn’t expected to win doesn’t mean he had no shot and Povetkin proved that in the ring.
If we put aside the outside the ring story, Joshua’s win is every bit as impressive as Wilder’s over Ortiz and might have been better. Povetkin was arguably the second best opponent of Joshua’s career and, in terms of who he’s beaten over the years, is a more proven professional than Ortiz.
Povetkin, an Olympic Gold medalist and world amateur champion, was also more accomplished in the unpaid ranks. His only loss prior to Joshua was to the best heavyweight of the last decade or so, Wladimir Klitschko. Like Wilder against a 38-year old Ortiz, Joshua was faced with an aging (in this case 39-year old) fighter colored by suspicion related to previous PED tests who mustered up his best effort with plenty in the tank.
The biggest difference going into Wilder-Ortiz is that there was more doubt about the outcome going into the fight. That shouldn’t disallow viewing the objective reality. Both Wilder and Joshua were pushed and found ways to knock their man out. It would be a little absurd to punish Joshua for struggling against a foe that was, at the very least, every bit as dangerous as Ortiz.
That might happen anyways because Joshua, even without yet crashing the US market, is the second biggest active money draw in the sport. That’s not an unfair burden to carry and it will follow Joshua until he faces the winner of Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury. There will be those who don’t see Joshua as truly earning his place until he proves that he is the very best. There is only one route to that.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Joshua: The Dempsey-esque crowd appeal of Joshua remains a sight to behold and it’s hard to think of another fighter who has ever consistently drawn like this with only 22 fights. He now has wins over Dillian Whyte, Carlos Takam, Klitschko, Joseph Parker, and Povetkin. That is also pretty impressive for 22 pro starts. What he does with his 23rdstart is going to be what matters and fans will hope to see the Wilder-Fury winner next. That’s what they should want and what the world should demand. They might have to wait for at least one more fight and while that will likely push up the gate on the eventual ultimate unification clash, it’s not going to be met with howls of approval. A Whyte rematch would surprise no one and, like Povetkin, it would otherwise be a good solid fight on paper. It’s just not the fight the most people want to see. It’s time to find out who the man is at heavyweight. Joshua is half of that equation. We’ll find out for sure who the other half is in December. Wilder-Fury can’t come soon enough.
The Future for Povetkin: Povetkin gave a better account against Joshua than he did Klitschko in part because of the mentality of Joshua. Klitschko was content to score a lot of knockdowns and then lay all over Povetkin to stop him from getting his offense going, a smarter if less entertaining approach. Joshua fought Povetkin straight up and found the Russian to be a little quicker than him and with more than enough skill to freeze the bigger man with feints and crack him with some good rights and lefts. Povetkin could never land a real money left hook and when Joshua hurt him he ended it. It was still an admirable effort from Povetkin. Will the Russian fight on? His chance to win a title is likely gone but if he continues there are still good fights to make. In a vacuum, wouldn’t Povetkin-Ortiz be a fascinating showdown at this stage?
Rold Picks 2018: 31-13
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]